By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY
“Hell no, we won’t go,” was the refrain heard from a crowd several hundred deep gathered outside the Capitol Tuesday at a rally against pending federal health-care reform that they have dubbed Obamacare.
Several state lawmakers and others spoke at the protest promoted by the Golden-based free-market think tank Independence Institute. Independence President Jon Caldara said he hopes the rally will send a clear message to Gov. Bill Ritter and to the legislature that Coloradans want the right to opt out of key provisions in the sweeping health-care bill currently making its way through Congress. It’s also a message that Caldara says he will take to the voters, in the form of a citizens initiative, if the governor and state legislators don’t act to preserve Coloado’s autonomy over health care.
“It is our goal to make Colorado a sanctuary state for health care,” said Caldara, who on Friday began the process of putting a proposal on the ballot in November that would let voters decide if they want to exempt Colorado from the mandates for health-care coverage proposed in the federal legislation.
The ballot initiative asks voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would give Coloradans the right to choose whether or not to purchase health insurance; protect their ability to purchase private insurance, and allow people to purchase health insurance from another state.
While the gathering drew several Republican lawmakers who turned out in support, a Democratic member of the legislature reached for comment said Caldara is being disingenuous by framing the initiative as a right to choose when people who are being dropped from health coverage don’t have the freedom to choose anything.
“Call it for what it is. If you are opposing reform then just say so,” said Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who sits on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “Frankly, I think it’s a cynical name game to pretend that simply thwarting health care is somehow a freedom of choice.”
Another Democrat who said she supports even more far-reaching change than that under consideration in Congress also gave today’s rally and the initiative a thumbs-down.
“We need to do something in this country, and I am in favor of single-payer national health care reform—so I would not support this initiative at all,” said Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, who is vice chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee.
Yet, the Republicans who addressed the rally contended that the costly and heavy-handed reform that congressional Democrats and President Obama have in mind would do far more harm than good to patients as well as their providers.
Republican Rep. Cindy Acree, of Aurora, said Coloradans should be able to choose the healthcare they want, and she said health care decisions should be made at the local level.
“We cannot afford the kind of health care that Washington is trying to impose on this state,” Acree said. “We can do it so much better at the local level.”
Neurosurgeon Sanat Dixit told protesters that his fellow physicians are very concerned about their ability under the congressional health-care bill to practice the kind of medicine that produces the best outcome for their patients.
“What I think is paramount in all this is that the patient (must be) empowered and not the federal government,” Dixit said. “The reform they’re proposing to enact is not patient-centric; its bureaucratic-centric, and that’s unacceptable.”
The GOP’s Sen. Shawn Mitchell, of Broomfield, exhorted the crowd to make their voices heard in Washington.
“We need to tell the federal government that enough is enough and too much is too much,” Mitchell said.
Acree agreed that reform is necessary but said the omnibus bill backed by the Obama administration would make a bad situation worse.
“We do need to fix a broken system, but we need to preserve our rights as a state to determine what’s best for our families in Colorado,” Acree said.
Caldara’s initiative still has several procedural hurdles to clear before it can be placed on the ballot in November.
(The Colorado News Agency is a nonpartisan, nonprofit project of the Independence Institute.)